Friday, January 27, 2012
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Islands of Adventure
Breakfast arrived to our room at 6:15am. Andrew ordered the spinach, bacon and Swiss omelet. Jessica got the All American Scrambled Eggs. It was pretty good for in-room dining, but nothing to really get excited about. The best part about breakfast was that we were done eating by 6:45am, and none of the other restaurants opened until 7:00am. We took advantage of this by making our way over to the gates at Islands of Adventure to be the first ones in the park.
By 7:30am, we were first in line at the turnstiles to get in at 8:00am. As a guest at a Universal Orlando property, we were allowed to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one full hour before the park opened to the public. Since WWoHP was the hottest thing in Florida as far as tourist attractions go, this one hour made all of the difference in the world to our visit. We had arranged our trip to be at the theme parks on the least busy weekend of the entire year because neither of us like crowds.
What do you get when you visit on a “slow” weekend and get into the park an hour before the public? Completely EMPTY park. We loved every second of it! I was able to take as many pictures and videos as I wanted with nobody in the shots, nobody in the way, and nobody pushing me out of the way. It was truly unbelievable.
The first thing we did when we arrived at WWoHP was to go straight to Ollivander’s for the Wand Ceremony. My dear friend Sue had advised us to do this first, because they only let about 20 people inside at a time and since it takes so long to conduct the ceremony, the lines are actually longer for Ollivander’s than they are for the other attractions. We walked right up into line and walked straight into Ollivander’s without waiting (thanks Sue!). Later in the day, the line did queue a bit but I don’t think most people waited more than an hour to see it on that particular day.
Ollivander’s is very small and they crowd a bunch of people inside. The actor then chooses a small child from the crowd to receive a wand based on his or her birth date. Then the actor has the child flick several different wands until one “chooses” the child. It’s pretty cute, especially for big fans of the movie. Afterwards, they corral you into the gift shop where you have the option to purchase your own wand. They have displays for character wands (such as if you want to buy Harry’s or Sirius’ wand) as well as wands for other witches and wizards based on your birthday or anniversary.
We walked over and hopped in line to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. By this, I mean we walked and walked and walked through the empty queue for a good 10-12 minutes before finally making it to the front of the “line” which did not exist. We literally walked straight onto the ride. We had heard horror stories of people who waited 3 or more hours to ride this ride. We felt extremely fortunate to walk straight onto it.
The Forbidden Journey is a ride like no other. You’re sitting in a four-seat car side by side like in a theater, on a giant mechanical arm which twists and turns you through a series of scenes either on a giant video screen or a real life environment such as encountering the dragon. It’s like a motion ride on steroids, and like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Andrew maintains that it is the best ride in Florida, and he proceeded to ride it three times during our stay! I rode it twice with him, and the motion made me very ill, so I regretfully couldn’t ride it any more than that. The ride has a lot of animatronics and effects like fire and water. You get rotated around, spun quickly and flipped onto your back several times while moving from scene to scene.
We walked to the Owl Post and mailed out three postcards – one to my friend Sarah, one to my friends Sue and Charlotte and one to ourselves. This happened to be the 15th anniversary of the day we first met at ASU, so the postcard to ourselves had a message to mark the occasion. I didn’t realize it until later, but the United States Postal Service had raised postage just a few days before this from 29 cents to 32 cents for postcard stamps. The stamps I had been using up until this point were 28 cent postcard stamps, which I had stored in my wallet to send mail to my little brother Noah while we were traveling. I never realized the rates raised from 28 to 29 cents! The post office was kind enough to continue to mail my postcards even with deficient postage for the past year or so. Lucky enough for us, our postcards mailed from Hogsmeade also arrived at their destination, each short 4 cents postage. I later picked up a stash of 32 cent stamps so I would be in compliance for all future mailings.
With our postcards mailed by Owl Post, we went to the gift shop and I purchased two pins for my collection. The first was my House pin for Slytherin, which I was sorted into while playing on Pottermore online. The second pin was a Hogwarts pin with small crystals matching the colors of the Houses. I also purchased a round white Christmas ornament with pictures of the Harry Potter characters on it to commemorate our trip. We had the ornament shipped back to the Trading Post at the front of the park for pickup later that evening, and I wore the pins on my lanyard.
Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks
We went inside the Three Broomsticks restaurant and purchased one regular Butterbeer. There were no lines and we got our Butterbeer right away and sat down near the Hog’s Head bar to enjoy it. The Butterbeer has a nice butterscotch taste with a light butter foam on top, which was incredibly tasty! The Butterbeer had to be one of the highlights of our trip. We’ve tried to emulate it at home using recipes we found online with cream soda, vanilla and melted butter, but it was nothing like tasting the real thing. I don’t know what Universal puts into it, but it’s mighty delicious and worth way more than the $3.25 they charge 12 ounces of the stuff.
Honeydukes was next on our adventure and we had a nice time walking around the empty shop and looking at all the sweets. For my friend Sarah’s birthday I picked up some Chocoballs, a Limited Edition Chocolate Frog and a box of Peppermint Frogs. I picked up a Chocolate Covered Lightning Bolt Shaped Rice Crispy Treat (that’s a mouthful) and it was absolutely delicious. The items for Sarah were sent back to the Trading Post for pickup later with the ornament.
We went through the queue again for The Forbidden Journey, this time allowing people to pass us by so we could stop and take pictures of all the items in the queue, such as the House Points display, the moving paintings, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room and the Pensieve. We once again made it to the front of the line and only waited 2-3 minutes before walking onto the ride. It was just as incredible the second time through! Even though we knew that the photo was taken just after you pass the spiders, the second ride photo was just as bad as the first one so we once again passed it up.
Extendable Ears inside Zonko's
I was feeling awfully ill by now with all the motion in the ride, so Andrew went off to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff which is meant for smaller witches and wizards. While he was on the ride, I hung out and took pictures of all the windows throughout the village of Hogsmeade. The windows had lots of little details that you could pick up on if you had read the books and saw the movies, like the actual tuxedo and gown that Harry and Hermione had worn to the Yule Ball in the movies. They had animated Mandrakes (whose screams will kill you, according to the books) and even Moaning Myrtle could be heard teasing you inside the bathrooms.
We went back to Dervish and Bangs which was the shop we were corralled into after the Wand Ceremony. Andrew purchased a wand for his friend and coworker Bonny based on her birthday. We looked at the ones for our birthdays and our anniversaries, but we didn’t like any of them. Most of them had skulls on the top and were somewhat gruesome. Andrew also picked up a Hogwart’s pin for his coworker Mary, and I got a Hufflepuff House patch for my friend Sarah. We sent all of it back to the Trading Post to pick up later that evening.
Andrew decided to ride the Dueling Dragons and made his way through the queue, choosing the Blue dragon on the right. While he was off doing that, I took dozens of pictures inside the (still) empty Honeydukes sweets shop and inside Zonko’s joke shop. Once he completed the ride, Andrew came and found me and we went back through the queue of the Dueling Dragons so I could see all of the fun props and things they had built surrounding the Triwizard Tournament, such as the Goblet of Fire, the Golden Eggs and the Triwizard Cup. The queue was very well done, and is definitely worth a look even if you don’t want to ride. Andrew chose the Red side the second time through, and I waited for him at the ride exit.
We went back to the entrance of Hogsmeade and a kind stranger took a picture of us in front of the Hogwart’s Express. Later in the day when the crowds started coming, we noticed they had a Conductor character standing in front of the train that kids could have their photos taken with. It was a nice little extra for visitors. Andrew noticed that once you entered Hogsmeade, the sensation of being within the world of Harry Potter was never broken. There was nothing that indicated you are at Universal Orlando; they had no penny smooshers or generic gift shops. Everything about this area of the park was 100% Harry Potter. The illusion was never broken, and I think that’s what made it so magical.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Three Broomsticks. I had the fish and chips plus a water, and it was very tasty. Andrew decided on the Shepard’s Pie with a Pumpkin Juice, and he really liked it. I tried his Pumpkin Juice and thought it was horrid; to me, it tasted like a sugar laced pumpkin tea. Andrew liked it though, so that’s all that mattered.
After four hours exploring a relatively empty WWoHP, we finally ventured outside of Hogsmeade to experience the rest of Islands of Adventure. We went through the Jurrasic Park section but the water ride was closed. We tried to ride the Pteradon Flyers but we were told we were too tall and had to have a child with us. We walked through the Comics section but didn’t ride anything. Then we made it to Marvel Land and rode Spiderman using our included VIP Express Pass. Spiderman had been partially upgraded to new projectors and screens, but it was still relatively old. We may have been slightly jaded having ridden Forbidden Journey twice already that day.
The Flying Car inside the Dueling Dragons Queue
Andrew decided to ride The Hulk. He used the Express Pass to go through the line and ended up waiting longer than if he had been in the regular line, although only about 5 minutes. He was in the second row, and he said it shook his skull up a bit. In fact, he felt the motion effects of the Hulk for a few days afterwards.
We made our way over to Seuss Landing and rode The Cat in the Hat using our Express Passes. It was a bit too much spinning for my taste as I was still motion sick from the airplane and forcing myself on The Forbidden Journey twice. We sat down to help calm my stomach and watched the 12:30pm Sinbad Stunt Show, in which I was not impressed. We then got in line for the 1:15pm Poseidon’s Fury show, and waited 30 minutes because we didn’t realize the show before had just started when we got in line. Again, I was relatively unimpressed and growing cranky because I was used to just walking onto everything.
Having exhausted the rest of the park in a whopping hour, we made our way back to Hogsmeade and went shopping again at Honeydukes. This time, I picked up some Chocoballs for myself (which I ended up not liking) and a plain rice crispy treat. Andrew decided upon some Treacle Fudge which he really liked. We then walked over to the Hog’s Head and picked up a frozen Butterbeer, which we both agreed was not as tasty as the regular version.
It was raining slightly and misting throughout the day which helped with the illusion at Hogsmeade. It felt like we were in London with overcast skies and lots of clouds. I don’t think the effect would have been as authentic if the sun had been shining, given the mounds of snow on top of the buildings.
Triwizard Cup inside the Dueling Dragons Queue
We said goodbye to WWoHP for the day and went back to Marvel to ride Spiderman one more time. Then we picked up our souvenirs from the Trading Post and walked back to the Royal Pacific hotel. We tried to ask the concierge for help shipping the gifts to my friend Sarah, but they couldn’t help us. We went down to the Business Center which advertised shipping via FedEx and UPS, but they also couldn’t help us. They didn’t have any boxes, packing materials or tape for purchase or use. We ended up keeping all the items and taking them with us to Disney, which was definitely not the plan.
Exhausted from the day’s adventures, we took a quick nap and wrote the day’s recaps. Then we decided to have dinner at NBA City at CityWalk. We tried the Parmesan chicken tenders for an appetizer but they were dry and not tasty at all. Andrew got a cheesesteak, and I chose Captain Jin’s Ginger Chicken which was pretty good. I also got the Chocolate Caramel Appletini which was good, but too much of a contrast with the ginger chicken to be enjoyable. After dinner, we walked over to TCBY for frozen yogurt. Andrew got called by his boss at work about a problem they needed help with immediately. Unfortunately, Andrew couldn’t do much from central Florida because he couldn’t log into his work machine from the Xoom or from his phone.
Jessica’s Favorite Things of the Day: Walking through Hogsmeade, drinking Butterbeer and taking pictures inside Honeydukes
Andrew’s Favorite Things of the Day: Riding The Forbidden Journey and the regular Butterbeer
Did you know? There’s a lot more to this story!
Flight to Florida & Universal’s Royal Pacific Hotel
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios & Arriving at Walt Disney World
Visiting the Magic Kingdom & The Richard Petty Experience
Water Sports & The California Grille
Hollywood Studios, Star Tours & Toy Story Midway Mania
Epcot & Around the World Segway Tour at the World Showcase
Our 10th Wedding Anniversary
Animal Kingdom, Mini Golf & The Yachtsman Steakhouse
Our Final Day at Disney & our Private Illuminations Cruise
The Missing Towncar & Our Flight to Phoenix
Flickr Photo Collection of Our 10th Anniversary Trip to Florida
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